Unfortunately, churches have a bad track record of misappropriating funds and misusing money.
From lavish dinners, $5000 sneakers, and private jets to $50 Million "church buildings" that rival concert venues, churches have not always used their donation money in Godly ways....
Given that most, if not all, of a churches funding comes by way of donations, here are five financial policies every Christian should MAKE SURE their church to employs.
Transparency. There was a time when I thought it went without saying that a churches finances should be totally transparent at least to the church membership if not the wider community. Unfortunately, the more I have studied churches and their finances, the more I have realized the disturbing reality that many churches have effectively NO transparency. Transparency not only ensures that funds are being appropriated correctly and ethically, it also gives donators peace of mind that their charitable giving is being used in accordance with stated church values. Does the church talk about helping the poor and yet effectively give all of their funding to building bigger buildings and expanding their campus? Does the church talk about serving those in need without putting any funding behind that mission? Does the church spend inordinate amounts on marketing, production, or steak dinners for big givers? Transparency goes a long way in ensuring your giving is going to the right things.
Financial oversight structures. Have you heard pastors say “never let the right hand see what the left is doing” as a dismissal of why financial oversight? Yeah that's a load of Skubala (Paul's words not mine 😉 ) Unfortunately, churches are often the easiest places to steal from… especially for those trusted with the finances. It might start out seemingly innocent: taking a $20 out of the plate rather than submitting for a $20 meal reimbursement or failing to separate personal items from a shopping trip with the church credit card, but make no mistake, such small improprieties almost always lead to larger ones. Every church should have people who assess for these things and audit the books… if they don’t, they’re welcoming impropriety.
Anonymous Giving. Obviously for tax purposes there have to be some individuals in a church or other charitable organization who know what financial gifts are given by whom (this goes with number 2 above). The problem is, at many churches, the Pastor and Elders/Leaders know and can make decisions based on this information, which is a big red flag 🚩. Every church should have a policy that the Pastor and Leadership not know the giving amount of any individual person to prevent favoritism or deference being given to the opinions of one member or congregant over another.
A Benevolence fund. Churches should not only exist to serve wider evangelism or missions goals but also to care for those in their own midst. From the earliest days of the Church, the Bible reports that benevolence (money set aside to serve those in and around the local church when they are in need) was a key use of church finances. Churches may choose to fund their benevolence out of special giving or out of their budget but if no system exists to distribute aid to those locally in need, I would be extremely weary of such a church.
Non-coercive tithing. If your church uses emotional pleas, manipulative atmosphere, or promises of “spiritual reward” to provoke donations, red flag 🚩. If a church will not end a service until a certain amount is raised, double red flag 🚩🚩. Individually, if the church ever calls people to give to the point at which they do not have enough themselves, BIG red flags 🚩🚩🚩. There is no scriptural passages that reflect what has become the increasing tendency to coerce donation through promises of future riches or to buy God’s favor. Calls for donation should be done in such a way that money or other gifts are given of one’s own volition and without spiritual pressure!
So what do you do if you find yourself in a faith community that lacks one of these policies?
You have a couple of options. You could bring it to the attention of your pastor and other church leaders. It’s entirely possible they aren’t aware of one or more of these and haven’t considered them.
Additionally, you could bring it up at a church leadership or business meeting. This might encourage a larger group of members to join your voice in asking for these reasonable and, in many Church expert’s views, necessary policies.
In the end though, depending on the structure of your church’s governance, decisions like these may fall to a person or group who point blank refuses to employ one or more of these. In those cases, you’re left with only two options:
continue to support a ministry that lacks financial accountability OR leave!
Because if they haven't started stealing your money yet, they probably will start soon.